Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. Listen! The wages of the labourers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you.
Jesus said to his disciples, "Truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
"If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell.
And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.
"For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another."
We have all found ourselves stumbling from time to time, hitting our shoe against a raised kerb, perhaps, and falling forward, sometimes with damaging results. In the Gospel today, Jesus speaks about stumbling blocks. He is very critical of those who are a stumbling block to the faith of others, those who undermine and weaken the other people's faith. He issues a warning against leading others astray, leading them away from God. Part of our baptismal calling is to nurture the faith of one another; to do the opposite is considered by Jesus to be a very serious matter indeed. He moves on from how people can be a stumbling to others in their relationship with God to how we can be a stumbling block to ourselves.
The hand, the foot, the eye can be a stumbling block to our own relationship with the Lord. When Jesus says, “if your eye should cause you to sin, tear it out,” he does not intend to be taken literally. It is simply a striking image to bring home the seriousness of what he is saying. The positive calling of the Gospel is that every aspect of our embodied existence is to serve and nurture our relationship with the Lord. Our calling is to give our whole selves to the Lord and to his way, to gather up all the elements that go to make us up and point them all in the one direction, the direction of the Lord and his will for our lives. That will not happen all the time but it is worth striving for. When our whole selves point in the direction of the Lord, then one of the beatitudes will come to pass for us, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
Some lurid statements must be taken figuratively, for in no way does Jesus demand that we disfigure ourselves, or gouge out an eye. His words reflect the primacy of the eternal over the temporal, of heavenly over earthly life: “Whoever would save their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake and the gospels' will save it” (Mark 8:35). Paraphrasing, one might put it: “If we use our hands, feet, eyes and our other faculties exclusively for selfish pleasure and not for loving service, we will lose everything in the end. But if we lose ourselves for the sake of goodness and for living by the gospel we will be saved for all eternity.” Life is for sharing what we possess with others and forming one body with them. In such a loving lifestyle, even small acts of helpfulness take on a very special meaning: “Anyone who gives you a drink of water because you belong to Christ will not go unrewarded.”
Sirach is equally stern yet offers consoling advice. His advice is very clear, “Rely not on your wealth or strength,” since overconfidence merely adds sin to sin. At the same time, he clearly sees the possibility of personal conversion, which should not be just put off from day to day. This is very much along the lines of the urgent biblical call to make use of the grace of the present moment. “If today you have heard the voice of the Lord, harden not your heart” (Ps 95:7-8).